Crisis in the news business

The crisis in the Ukraine was not to be found on the front page of a recent Washington Post — but articles on trendy restaurants and teenage rodeos were. — Credit: MAIDANERS

It was a week that began with the management of The New York Times forcing out the paper’s executive editor after just three years.

A few days later, exhibiting what can only be called eccentric news judgment, page one of The Washington Post featured one story on trendy restaurants for upscale Washingtonians and another on teenage rodeos in Maryland. Dull items like Ukraine and Syria and kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls were nowhere in sight.

Think that things have gotten kind of weird in the news business lately? You’re absolutely right. In the old media especially — newspapers and magazines, that is — signs abound of continuing decline, growing angst, and a nervous scramble to reach out to new audiences or at least hang on to the dwindling audiences they’ve still got.

Browsing in the Columbia Journalism Review, you find a writer referring casually, as if speaking of a fait accompli, to “the collapse of the newspaper industry.” To which, of course, one familiar response is: “So what? Take a look at the Internet — there are as many news sites out there as any sane person could want. And many of them are generated by old news media making their move into the digital era.”

That’s all very well, but it ignores a crucial point. Covering the news is a labor-intensive enterprise, and the number of media actually attempting to do it — especially in the national and international sectors — has always been comparatively small and is getting smaller all the time.

Newsrooms have shrunk. Foreign and domestic bureaus have closed right and left as an economy measure. In the news business now, fewer and fewer are trying to do more and more with less and less.

As for news on the Internet, it’s largely the province of aggregators — sites featuring links to coverage provided by those who still hang in there doing original work — along with a wilderness of bloggers who opinionate on the news but don’t cover it.

The situation in secular media is mirrored in religious media. Many diocesan weeklies have shut down, switched to biweekly or monthly, or else transitioned to the Internet. Many magazines similarly have disappeared or also moved onto the web. Blogs and bloggers have multiplied. By no means is this all for the worse, but who’d care to say it’s all for the best?

Speaking at meeting in Rome, Helen Osman, the top communication official of the U.S. bishops’ conference, says that “to understand the culture of the United States and how the Church can present the faith within that culture, it is important to realize that the adoption of digital communications is fundamentally changing the culture.” Quite so.

In the end, moreover, it doesn’t matter greatly whether people get their news on a printed page or a screen. But it does matter that they get it — and that it be timely, accurate, honest and fair. Religious leaders, just like other leaders in society, need to worry about that.

It’s often said that the proliferation of news-related sites on the Internet means people have plenty of news sources at their disposal and can fend for themselves. But the ugly reality is that many, instead of digging for the truth of things, settle cheerfully for the version of events — and the site — that tickles their particular bias.

The old news media had lots of faults, but at their best they made an honorable effort to get the facts and tell the story straight. However you look at it, their decline is very bad news.

 

Russell Shaw is the author of more than 20 books, including volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism and the abuse of secrecy in the Church. He previously served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops (1967-87) and information director for the Knights of Columbus (1987-97).


Voices

Iowa and us in a Year of Mercy

Kathryn Jean Lopez

It was in the general-purpose room of St. Francis of Assisi Church in West Des Moines that Donald Trump made his last pitch to Iowa voters, inside a caucus room. He wanted to make sure people remembered that not only will he build the wall on our border with Mexico, but that he’s the only candidate who will make Mexico pay for it.

Events

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February 6, 2016

  • Saturday, February, 6

    Second Annual Sisters of Notre Dame Nun Run 5K & 1-Mile Fun Run, 8 a.m., Hosted by the Sisters of Notre Dame and La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks. Course starts on Dover Avenue in Thousand Oaks and finishes in front of La Reina School. Open to runners and walkers of all ages and ability levels. Professional chip timing technology will be provided to 5K runners by Vendurance Sports. Participants will receive a free T-shirt (while supplies last); pancake breakfast available after the race. Pre-registration is $35 per person for the 5K, and $25 for the 1-Mile. All proceeds support the Sisters of Notre Dame Life and Ministry Fund, allowing the sisters to continue their ministries in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. For more information, contact Chloe Vieira at cvieira@sndca.org, or visit sndca.org/nunrun. 

    Math Competition for Middle School Students & Problem-Solving Workshop for Teachers, 7:45 a.m., Don Bosco Technical Institute, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead.A mathematics competition for fifth through eighth grade students. The 44th annual event will offer awards for the highest scoring individual and teams. Participants must register by Feb. 2 atwww.boscotech.edu/events. Space is limited. The cost is $8 per individual and $5 per person for teams of four or more, up to 15. Check-in begins at 7:45 a.m.; one-hour test starts at 9 a.m. Free activities offered and food available for purchase. Award ceremony follows the competition at 11 a.m. For more information, contact Valeria De Luna at MathCompetition@boscotech.edu.

     

    San Fernando Regional Day of Prayer for the RCIA, 1 - 4:30 p.m., St. John Baptist De La Salle Church, 16555 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills. An afternoon of prayer for those who will celebrate the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion this Lent. Catechumens, candidates, sponsors and team members will come together in prayer with Bishop Joseph V. Brennan. To register or for more information, contact Sandy Cole at (818) 368-1514 or dre@sjbdls.org.

     

    Second Annual Valentine's Dinner/Dance, 7 p.m., St. James School - O'Gorman Center, 4625 Garnet St., Torrance.Dance music from the 50's to the present; $20 per person. Proceeds will benefit our seminarians. For more information, call the parish office at (310) 372-5228, or Ely at (310) 944-3355.  

     

    Snowflake Swing Dinner/Dance, 6 p.m. to midnight,St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1523 Golden Gate Ave., Los Angeles. Great food, door prizes and dancing (assorted music), featuring the LA Trio. Tickets $25; RSVP by Feb. 2. For reservations, call Liza at (323) 664-1305 or Renee at (213) 413-3036. 

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